So I was especially, irrationally happy to see this quote from Bronco Mendenhall in a Jeff White article:
"I've asked them to do some things that are pretty extreme, with not wearing Virginia gear and no numbers for practice. But it's interesting, because our team simply seems to want to know what standard it will take for us to have success, and they're trusting me that I'm setting that standard for them, and because of that initial level of trust, they're working really hard and matter of factly believing that if they do this, we'll have success."(Emphasis mine.)
There it is. If X, then Y. I could not be a happier camper.
Such is the subtle, ground-up and ground-out way in which a Program is built. Bronco has been speaking ever since his initial press conference about building an earn-it culture, where everything from the logo to the right to practice is earned via a series of hurdles....which is another way of saying if X then Y. What is Bronco doing? He's accelerating the trust-me process. The bigger the X's and Y's, the more trust. Bronco isn't waiting for the little ones, like "block this way and we'll get a first down" - he's putting as many big ones in play as he can, as fast as he can. Better yet, ones he can exercise absolute control over. All that stuff about earning the right to practice and doing drills over and over til they're done right and starting the up-downs over if they're not in sync - the discipline aspect is easy to see, but it's not just that. It's planting the seeds of trust, and of a culture.
Culture will happen whether or not you put any effort into building it, of course. Which makes it all the more imperative that you work on building it. Quote number two that has me especially and irrationally excited comes from an Andrea Adelson article on ESPN:
"The locker room is spotless. 'If you would have walked into our locker room before, it might look like a little kids’ room, stuff everywhere,' running back Taquan Mizzell said. Smith chimes in: 'We had a pet mouse. Stuart Little was walking around.'"Does an immaculate locker room have any outward bearing on whether you score enough touchdowns? No, and it never will unless you had players literally breaking their ankle on things. But there's obviously a disciplinary sea change in the works. Is anyone surprised that Mike London had no problem with his players making a trash pile out of their living space?
Indeed, London was the master of failing to deliver Y. Like when he promised increased focus on special teams discipline yet allowed a player to keep playing right after directly costing his team three points with a boneheaded play. Yes, that was in large part a failure of the special teams coach - but do you think Bronco Mendenhall's staff would make that oversight? We haven't seen them in game action yet, but I'm very confident the answer is no.
That Mizzell quote is telling in how it's said as well as what's said. The teamwide acceptance of Bronco's methods is actually rather astonishing in its extent. You have to assume some of the usual attrition is in the cards, but there's a general recognition that Bronco's ways are going to pay dividends. That's not a complaint about how he makes them pick up after themselves, it's a tacit acceptance that the new is better than the old. And it's almost like now that there's a little momentum and some visible progress (most notably on the scale) nobody wants to be the first to tap out.
Much of that is Bronco's approach - he's a hard-ass, yes, but more than that he's a velvet hammer. He is many of the things that Mike London is, and much more that London never was. The head coach at UVA is still a genuine and likable person who insists that his charges go to class, only now he also prioritizes discipline and recruits linemen. (Counting transfer Jared Cohen and the likely transfer from Arizona State, five of Bronco's first six commitments play positions neglected by London.)
Almost everything we've seen out of Bronco so far is a vast and screamingly obvious contrast to the things London did poorly, and a huge improvement on all of it. Talent is not lacking on this football team - it won three ACC games even with zero discipline and coaching that in several aspects was stunningly inept. Now we have a coach that fills those gaps, gushes about the team's willingness to be coached, and furthermore, perfectly understands what (from this armchair) is the foundation of coaching. X's and O's are vital, but X's and Y's even more so. This is the start of something good.